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Ask your electronic nose

Staff writer |
Imagine that you mixed a new fragrance but you aren't sure will other people like it or not. Wouldn't be great to have an electronic nose to tell "that's great" or "that smells"? Well, that device actually does exists!

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While taking a break from "higher" aspect of science, Weizmann Institute scientists have trained an electronic system to be able to predict the pleasantness of novel odours. Over the last decade electronic noses or eNoses have been developed to be able to detect and recognize odours. The main component of an eNose is an array of chemical sensors.

As an odour passes through the eNose, its molecular features stimulate the sensors in such a way as to produce a unique electrical pattern that characterizes that specific odour. Like a sniffer dog, an eNose first needs to be trained with odour samples so as to build a database of reference. Then the instrument can recognize new samples of those odours by comparing the odour's fingerprint to those contained in its database.

But unlike humans, if eNoses are presented with a novel odour whose fingerprint has not already been recorded in their database, they are unable to classify or recognize it. So, a team of scientists decided to approach this issue from a different perspective. Rather than train an eNose to recognize a particular odour, they trained their eNose to predict whether an odour would be perceived as pleasant or unpleasant, or anywhere in between.

To achieve this, the scientists first asked a group of people to rate the pleasantness of a selection of odours according to a 30-point scale ranging from very pleasant to very unpleasant. From this dataset, they developed an odour pleasantness algorithm which they then programmed into the eNose. The scientists then got the eNose to predict the pleasantness of a completely new set of odours not contained in their database against the ratings provided by a completely different group of native Israelis.

The scientists found that the eNose was able to rate the pleasantness of novel odours it never smelled before, and these results were stunning: eNose achieved an accuracy of 99%! In other words, 99% percent of people agree with eNose estimations? Maybe even more interesting fact is that eNose is tested among different cultures and the result showed that it works across cultures.

So, buy some oils, mix them together ask eNose what did you do. If it says "Yes!", you can be pretty sure that the new Chanel is born.

Contributed by: Joana Rodeiro


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